Tartan, as we know it today, is not thought to have existed in Scotland before the 16th century. By the late 16th century there are numerous references to striped or checkered plaids. It isn't until the late 17th or early 18th century that any kind uniformity in tartan is thought to have occurred. Martin Martin, in his A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland published in 1703, wrote that Scottish tartans could be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different regions. He expressly wrote that the inhabitants of various islands and the mainland of the highlands were not all dressed alike, but that the setts and colours of the various tartans varied from isle to isle. As he does not mention the use of a special pattern by each family, it would appear that such a distinction is a modern one, and taken from the ancient custom of a tartan for each district, the family or clan in each district originally the most numerous in each part, eventually adopting as their distinctive clan tartan, the tartan of such district.
For many centuries, the patterns were loosely associated with the weavers of a particular area, though it was common for highlanders to wear a number of different tartans at the same time. A 1587 charter granted to Hector Maclean of Duart requires feu duty on land paid as 60 ells of cloth of white, black and green colours. A witness of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie describes "McDonnell's men in their triple stripes". From 1725 the government force of the Highland Independent Companies introduced a standardised tartan chosen to avoid association with any particular clan, and this was formalised when they became the Black Watch regiment in 1739.
There are over 31 tartans registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans and that are associated with the Gordons.